PUBLIC CONCERT AND AUDIENCE RESPONSE IN MUMBAI
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
By 
Dr. Aneesh Pradhan

Despite notions of Indian music having experienced an unchanged existence since centuries, it is evident that it has undergone a series of transformations during the entire period. These changes, caused by a variety of reasons, have resulted in musicians adapting themselves to altered environments. It would be impossible to arrive at an understanding of the audience response at present without taking into account the experience of the past. The first steps taken towards moving musical performance out of a private space and onto the public concert platform towards the end of the nineteenth century, brought about some of the most significant changes not just in performance space and context, but also in the music itself. The public concert that stood apart from the private concert by way of its organisational and musical characteristics, and by way of the audience response, was a phenomenon first seen in large cities like Mumbai. This trend was later followed in smaller towns.

This paper is restricted to public concert and audience response in Mumbai, as Mumbai was a trendsetter in many ways, albeit while maintaining a strong link with the hinterland and the more distant parts of the country. Mumbai with its burgeoning trade and industry and strong focus on English education, had thrown up a class of business industrial and educated elite. This affluent section of Indian society was in a position to support music at various levels. The search for a national identity in the growing environment of national consciousness and the resultant zeal to prove to the colonial masters the antiquity and richness of Indian tradition, inspired the more en-lightened from among this elite to propagate this heritage. They chose Indian art music as one of the vehicles for this endeavor and established music clubs in the nineteenth century to patronise music education and performance. The setting up of music clubs marked the beginning of public concerts in the city and of public performances by amateur musicians. This was an uphill task fraught with many obstacles like the then prevalent social stigma associated with professional musicians and their vocation This paper will discuss the methods employed by early music clubs such as the Parsi Gayan Uttejak Mandali to attract greater number of listeners to concerts and to familiarise them with the music.

The twentieth century saw the birth of music circles like the Bombay Music Circle with the express intention of providing a platform for musicians to exhibit their performances and of creating a public space for music lovers to enjoy musical recitals. Amateur musicians were also encouraged to perform in public under the aegis of the music circle. Performances hosted by the music circles featured reputed local and visiting musicians, and demonstrated effectively the manner in which public concerts were gradually influencing performance repertoire, presentation and audience response.

With the entry of the recording industry and broadcasting in India, musicians discovered new avenues of performance, and frequent recordings and broadcasts of their performances replaced their initial hesitation and circumspection about these media. However, musicians had to adapt to the constraints placed by these channels on the conventional manner of performance. Over a period, listeners too have grown accustomed to these changes and this has in turn influenced audience response to public concerts. In the post-independence era, television has added yet another dimension to performance and has affected presentation and audience response.

Finally, do extra-musical activities affect performance and audience response? Periodicals in Mumbai in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, carried articles on Indian art music, which may have objectively helped in creating public opinion about music. Books on music also began appearing towards the end of the nineteenth century, thus, helping popularize music. Institutionalized music education opened the doors of traditional musical knowledge to people from non-hereditary musician families, and created an initiated listening public.

In the present context, festivals of music, corporate sponsorship, recent writings on music, and many other factors have influenced the world of Indian art music and audience response has also been affected as a result. This paper also takes into account some of these current trends in an attempt to establish a dialogue between the past and the present.

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